Mere Rhetoric

On Christian Teaching


Welcome to Mere Rhetoric the podcast for beginners and insiders about the people, ideas and movement that have shaped rhetorical history. Big thanks to the University of Texas’ Humanities Media Project for supporting the podcast.


Today we get to talk about the saint who brought classical rhetoric into the realm of Christian homiletics. Augustine was a fourth century saint whose life in someways demonstrates the great sea-changes in the Mediterranean world of rhetoric, education and religion. His father was pagan, his mother was Christian and young Augustine describes himself as a bit of a genius hedonist in his Confessions. His teachers were supposedly terrible, but he mastered the standards of a Roman education—Virgil and Cicero. He eventually became a rhetoric teacher in Carthage, Rome and Milan. He taught rhetoric all told for somewhere between ten and fifteen years, before his eventual conversion to Christianity and vocation as a priest and the bishop of Hippo. He must have spent a lot of time pondering the question of how his previous career as one who taught other people how to persuade could be reconciled with his new religion’s emphasis on inspiration. If God will give the preacher exactly the words which he needs, either through scripture or through divine inspiration, is there any space for a Christian rhetoric? He started working on his definition of Christian rhetoric as early as the 390s, but On Christian Teaching wasn’t finished until 427, only three years before his death. Throughout those forty years, Augustine must have thought about the practical question of whether Christian preachers could be trained to give better sermons, much as he had spent more than a decade teaching young men in the principles secular rhetoric.


The first argument that Augustine has to make is that Christian teaching can be rhetorical. Rhetoric was seen as pagan and more than a little sneaky. Augustine argues that rhetoric may be used by Christians as a means of spoiling of Egypt to adorn the temples of Jerusalem (Green’s 64-7). The biblical allusion he’s making comes from the flight of the Hebrews from Egypt who took pagan gold with them to make their own religious items. Augustine’s metaphor implies that rhetoric, like the gold itself, is valuable, but it must be melted down and essentialized from its current pagan form. Augustine goes on to argue that Christians not only benefit from using rhetoric, but they avoid rhetoric at their own peril. Because “rhetoric is used to give conviction to both truth and falsehood” why should truth “stand unarmed in the fight against falsehood” (101)? So Augustine argues that rhetoric has both positive and defensive value, but as part of the melting down of the pagan gold idols, he recommends several key differences from classical rhetoric.


First, the similarities: there’s a lot that Augustine believes that the Christian can be taught about oratory, especially he classical idea of the three levels of speaking, high, middle and plain. He is very willing to steal the gold, also, of the three aims of the orator, to instrut, delight and move, which Augustine calls “to be listened to with understanding, with pleasure and with obedience” (87). Even the methods of instruction can be taken from the pagan rhetors. Imitation looms large, except more Paul, perhaps, and less Cicero. Augustine sees the bible as not just source material, but examplars. This is a very Classical way of teaching style. Augustine’s destinction between “things” (the content) and “signs” (the proclaimation of the content) is itself a very classical distinction. Augustine’s “Egyptian gold” seems to be of a very Platonic and Ciceronian ore, but he does melt it down to reform it into a more Christian shape through two important moves.



First, Augustine puts a heavy emphasis on the ethos of the speaker. Classical rhetoric, too, especially Cicero, who Augustine read, valued ethos, but for Augustine, the character of the preacher is important for practical as well as theological reasons. Augustine demands that the speaker live a good life and be in companionship with the inspiration of the Spirit of God. While Augustine admits that “A wise and eloquent speaker who lives a wicked life certainly educates many who are eager to learn, although he is useless to his own soul,” he believes that the speaker in front on an audience should, in the best case, be the best sort of man (142). The speaker who is a good person can teach through acts as well as through words. By living lives that were beyond reproach, the preachers who follow Augustine “benefit far more people if they practiced what they preached” (143). This follows Paul’s injunction to his own teacher-in-training, Timothy, when he says about bishops that they “must have a good report of them which are without” (1 Tim. 3:7). The people outside of the church as well as in, would be best to have a good example teaching them


            But for Augustine, it’s not enough just to live a moral life—pagan Stoics and Epicureans can similarly follow rules they have made for themselves. Augustine also says that the preacher needs to pray and receive the Holy Ghost’s instruction. The preacher needs to pray in preparation “praying for himself and for those he is about to address” (121). He needs the prayer in order to be able to be an instrument of the Spirit and the audience need the prayer so they can be receptive to the message. The preacher gets the truth of the subject as well as the delivery from the prayer. As a vessel fro the truth the preacher prays so he “can utter what he had drunk in and pour out what has filled him” (121). Augustine even goes as far as to say of the preacher that “he derives more from his devotion to prayer than his dedication to oratory” (121). The idea behind this is that eloquence can come as does inspiration to speak the right thing—from the inspiration of the Spirit.

Augustine even goes as far as to say of the preacher that “he derives more from his devotion to prayer than his dedication to oratory” (121).

This idea that the preacher can appeal to divine eloquence instead of considering the rhetorical situation has made several 20th century scholars frustrated with Augustine. Kenneth Burke complains in Rhetoric of Motives that Augustine seeks “cajoling of an audience [not] routing of opponents.” I don’t pretend to know every Burke means, but that seems like a bit of an unfair argument because Augustine spends most of his time describing homiletics, a genre that operates on the assumption that the speaker and the audience are already in agreement on most of the key principles, if not the application and degree. Once they’ve put on the stiff suit, or itchy nylons and are sitting on the hard-backed pews at an unreasonable hour of a Sunday morning, you’ve already won a large part of the battle. Your audience is probably less diametrically opposed to you than would be, say, the senate in a legislative speech or the jury in a judicial speech. Stanley Fish objects that that Augstine’s dependence on spirit depreciates the speaker, which is actually a very old argument against Christian homiletics. In the Renaissance, rhetoric was a scary idea in general and we’ll talk about Wayne Rebhorn’s books about rhetoric debates later, but the key thing is that Augustine along with his critics had to deal with how rhetoric fits into one of the key Christian paradoxes: that men are both “little lower than the angels” and also “less than the dust of the earth.” Fish is right that Augustine’s reliance on spirit depreciates the agency of the speaker, but he neglects that for Augustine the steps necessary to receive the spirit—obedience and prayer—are responsibilities of the speaker, as necessary to a Christian canon of rhetoric as invention and arrangement. And it’s not just a Christian rhetoric that Augustine is describing here: it’s a neo-Platonic one.

Plato’s influence is seen all over On Christian Doctrine. You might not remember from our episode on the Pheadrus, but Plato believed that eternal truths about, for example, beauty could be “remembered” in this world. What we are remembering are the glimpses of truth that we were able to see in a spirit world where we were able to control our rash desires. In other words, when we were obedient to our better selves. Augustine was a big fan of Plato, but as a rhetorician, he probably liked the pro-rhetoric Plato best. In On Christian Doctrine, Augustine seeks a way to reconcile his neo-Platonist philosophy, Christianity and the idea that good preaching is a skill that can be teachable and improved. In the turn of the fourth century, Augustine witnessed both the 410 sack of Rome and the 430 Vandal invasion of Hippo, his own home. He lived right on the boundary between the end of the old, Roman Mediterranean world and the rise of the Christian European one. In all of the tumultuous change that was about to begin, Augustine recommended adaption, not revolution, as Christians reused the best rhetorical practices of the pagan world to build their new era.






Direct download: Mere_Rhetoric_-_On_Christian_Teaching.mp3
Category:Education -- posted at: 12:00pm CST

Epideictic Rhetoric


Intro and rebroadcast note



Today we’ll be talking about epideictic rhetoric because it’s probably my favorite of the three branches of Aristotelian rhetoric and it’s my birthday. It being my birthday actually has a lot to do with epideictic rhetoric because birthday speeches are one of the classic examples of epideictic rhetoric, the others being wedding toasts, eulogies, and Independence Day orations, except I think the people who came up with that last one probably lived a century ago because I have never attended an Independence Day oration, unless you count the one Bill Pullman gives in the movie Independence Day and that was probably not what they had in mind. But then again, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a birthday speech either.


The point I think I was making is that epideictic rhetoric is very old and very important. It’s likely older than either political or legal rhetoric, and might have grown out of the same TV-less fascination with sitting around hearing someone talk that makes human beings revere storytellers. Because it has a long history, epideictic rhetoric also has a long history of being studied. Manuals on how to give speeches date back to the 4th and 5th century bc and Greeks continued to be fascinated by epideictic rhetoric. It is one of the three branches of rhetoric that Aristotle describes in the Art of Rhetoric along with the judicial and deliberative. But while judicial rhetoric obviously concerns itself with obtaining justice and deliberative rhetoric obtains laws or political action, it’s less clear what the goal of epideictic rhetoric is. Judicial rhetoric can keep you out of jail or paying a fine; deliberative rhetoric can stop a tax or send you into war with Sparta; epideictic rhetoric—makes a happy day happier and a sad one sadder? It turns out that epideictic rhetoric actually does a great deal of work, but a subtler way than judicial or deliberative rhetoric. It’s sneaky, but lets break it down into three things you need to know about Epideictic rhetoric


The first thing you need to know is that Epideictic rhetoric, according to Aristotle, deals with praise and blame. So all of those special occasion pieces, like wedding toasts and obituaries, point out the good qualities of the people getting married or buried. They talk about the virtues of the people of the hour. For Aristotle, these virtues were well classified: of course, it’s Aristotle so it’s well classified. He mentions “justice, courage, self-control, magnificence, magnanimity, liberality, gentleness, practical and speculative wisdom" or "reason." You can imagine an obituary that pointed out how brave and gentle the deceased was, or a wedding toast that honored the good reason in choosing this particular spouse. This is the “praise” side of epideictic rhetoric, which is easy to imagine because we see it relatively often. Well, hopefully the people writing the wedding toasts and obituaries point out the good qualities instead of blame, although you could imagine occasions that didn’t sugar-coat everything. Blame speeches are a little more difficult to conjure up, but Guy Fawkes Day springs to mind, as do the journalistic obituaries for dictators and other villains. These blame speeches, for Aristotle, will focus on the opposites of those virtues, so instead of talking about bravery and gentleness of the departed, a blame-based obituary would talk about a tyrant’s cowardice and cruelty. So the first key thing to remember about epideictic rhetoric is that it engages with praise and blame according to some criteria, some list of virtues that are deemed important by that community.


That leads to the second key element about epideictic rhetoric. The praise and blame that people bring up are dependent on the community in which those people live. So to go back to the example of writing an obituary, if you lived in a community where gentleness was not considered a virtue, but, on the contrary, being feared was the most important attribute, you might say, “He was a cold-hearted, calculating tyrant” with utmost praise and affection. When we in our society hear that phrase, we recoil and feel the figure is being blamed, but another culture might interpret that phrase as praise. So one of the jobs of the rhetor is to understand what is praise- or blame-worthy in the community. Chaim Perleman and Lucie Olbrecht-Tyteca have said, “The speaker engaged in epidictic discourse is very close to being an educator ” and must do the work of “promoting values shared in the community” (52). The community determines what is blamed and praised, but also what is praised and blamed tells you something about the community. So if “He was a cold-hearted, calculating tyrant” is considered praise in a community, you know a lot about what it’s like to live there. You know you want to clear out of there. But epideictic rhetoric both reflects and creates a community. Celeste Michelle Condit describes this process when she says that one of the key things epideictic does is “shape and share communities” (289). Sometimes the epideictic rhetoric is the first time that common attitudes and beliefs have been put into words, and if the articulation of those beliefs resonate with the audience, it defines that community. Jeffrey Walker describes this as a lyrical enthymeme. An enthymeme does this [shave and a hair cut knock] It’s hard not to finish it, isn’t it? In your mind you’re filling in the blanks—provided you’re familiar with the whole pattern [shave and a hair cut—two bits]. You could only know the whole pattern if you were part of the culture that made this pattern so common. Imagine the same thing happening in an epideictic speech. I say “Brooklyn,” you say “whaaat?” and I say “He was a cold-hearted, calculating tyrant” and you say “boo.” The audience fills in the gaps. In fact, if the audience doesn’t, Condit sees this as a good sign that you aren’t part of the community. This works in parts as well as over all. The speaker gets to decide which parts of the community to highlight and which parts to downplay. If someone praises something that only 80% of the community agrees with, the remaining 20% are, according to Condit, “likely to [feel] a sense of alienation from the community “ (290). So while almost everyone in our community agrees that being “a cold-hearted, calculating tyrant” is a bad thing, if the speaker then goes on and says, “and he didn’t like dogs—he liked cats!” then everyone in the audience who likes cats is going to start thinking, “Wait, what’s wrong with liking cats? I like cats. Should I not be liking cats? Do only cold-hearted, calculating tyrants like cats? Argh! I’m terrible, I don’t belong here, what am I doing?” So epideictic rhetoric will sometimes reflect the values of an audience, but sometimes it will create an audience, by alienating some members of the community.


So if the first point is that epideictic rhetoric praises and blames and the second point is that epideictic rhetoric will shape and share our communities, the last thing to remember about epideictic rhetoric is that it’s actually everywhere. At this point you might be saying, “wait a tick, didn’t you just say that Independence Day orations and birthday speeches are really rare?” Yes, but epideictic rhetoric doesn’t always have to be a formal speech. Remember the characteristics we mentioned—praise and blame and reflect the society’s values. Now think about everything that does that. A movie like Independence Day might do that. It praises the courage of Will Smith’s character and Jeff Goldbaum’s quirky intellectual obsession while criticizing cowardly politicians and naïve hippies. If you’re an American, the movie seems to argue, these are the values that you’ll admire. If you don’t admire those values, the movie can be alienating. Movies, song lyrics, TV shows, museums, even art and architecture can be epideictic, establishing what is praiseworthy and what is blameworthy. A lot of literature, in a broad sense, can be read as epideictic. The idea that the arts presents to an audience stories that we can either praise or blame creates a rhetorical background for the rhetoric of poetics. Scholars from Wayne Booth to Jeffery Walker have noted the way that literature creates an argument for our societies, teaching us values. Being assigned certain “great works” can be a way of indoctrinating young people to the values and attitudes of a community, as can being told that a book or movie is a “classic.” When epideictic rhetoric can be found everywhere, we recognize that we are always being persuaded to attitudes and values, even if not to specific actions.


So while today I might not be getting a birthday speech at my party, I will probably have a conversation with someone about achieving my birthday goal of reading all of Shakespeare’s plays (which are persuading me to espouse certain values), and we’ll listen to the French circus music I like (which may alienate those who don’t appreciate a swing accordion) and when someone wishes me a happy birthday, they will wish me the things we as a community have agreed will bring me happiness.


Direct download: Mere_Rhetoric_-_Epideictic_Rhetoric.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm CST

Saving Persausion


Welcome to Mere Rhetoric, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. Today we continue our month-long festival of all things deliberative rhetoric with a discussion of Saving Persuasion by Bryan Garston.


One thing exciting about his book is that it isn’t written by a rhetorician. Nope, not really. It’s written by a political scientist, which makes rhetoricians excited for two reasons. First, we always get excited when someone outside of our field thinks of us, much less praises us. Second, this guy is in political science! Political science, the people who are always saying things like “empty rhetoric” and “let’s cut through the rhetoric”! And here’s Bryan Garsten saying that persuasion has value, that it is worth saving. We could, as a discipline, collectively kiss him.


But that would take a while.


Also, it would be weird.

Garsten argues that the political theorists of the Enlightenment got it all wrong; instead of appealing to some sort of universal common standard for political deliberation, we need to be more comfortable with how people actually think. Their feelings, attitudes and even biases.

Because, in our age "efforts to avoid rhetorical controversy tend to produce new and potentially more dogmatic forms of rhetoric" we need to realize that "public reason was ingested by philosophers to quell religious controversy by subjecting debate to authoritative standard"-in Hobbes' case, representation, in Rousseau's "prophetic nationalism" and in Kant's "public reason." In each other these there’s an attempt to keep debate from happening—to push people out of the debate Garsten suggests that all three of these standards result in what he calls "liberal alienation"--the way that "from implied unanimity [...] dissenters feel alienated"--if you feel like you can't participate in "general deliberation," your concerns are unaddressed. The result is a polarization where those not invited to the deliberative party strike out against those who exclude them.


And yes, Garsten invokes Hitler and how German concerns were polarized instead of addressed. You can see how it happens. Post world war I, the Germans were excluded from the table of negotiating the peace. German concerns were left out of the deliberations, or were underplayed and Germany hurt bad after the war. By not being considered part of deliberations, many Germans become polarized and aggressive about groups they feel wronged them. And the exclusion begins again. Hitler says, “We all are hurt from WWI” and the people all murmur “yes, yes” and Hitler says, “German should be great again” and the people all murmur “yes, yes” and then Hitler says, “So we should eliminate Jews and other undesirables” and some people suddenly are out of the discussion again..

Instead, Garsten recommends that we make more space for alternative arguments, including those that are based in partiality, passion and privacy. He defends these elements against the common Habermasian critiques against them and says that what should count as deliberative argument is simply "when we make decisions deliberately [...] when we purposefully consider [...] the factors relevant to the our decision." We need to, instead of excluding our adversaries because of their "bad reasoning," see each other and respect each other for how the actual existing individual thinks and feels.


The example Garsten gives is Pres. Johnson, who was able to meet the small-town, white Texans where they were and position something like civil rights for black people in a way that would be palatable to them as well

In all of this there is still the threat of demagoguery. As a potential solution, Garsten invokes Madison, whose theories about small, localized governments within a extended territory can be extended to deliberation: break issues down into smaller, localized, even interested issues, and make sure that there is plenty of space for things to be re-evaluated in the future, and that even if one issue is decided, it doesn't by extension mean that all of the other issues are. Small, piecemeal disputes are best. These institutional strictures structure the individual though and directions deliberation--there can' be any thought of "If I were king," because there aren't any kings to be had.

Ultimately, Garsten promotes a defense of persuasion where we look at each other, and speak to each other--not that we're BFFs or brothers, but that we "pay attention to fellow citizens and to their opinions," not as their opinions should be constructed, or we think they should be, but as they are. The best purpose of persuasion is that it forces us to think beyond ourselves, to encounter others as they are, instead of trying to make them in our own image.


If you’re a political scientist with thoughts about rhetoric or a rhetorician with thoughts about politics, feel free to contact us either via email at or our Twitter account @mererhetoric-k-e-d or put out a negative TV spot showing us in unflattering, slow-motion footage. Keep on persuading, my fellow rhetoricians!

Direct download: Mere_Rhetoric_-_Saving_Persuasion.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm CST

Welcome to MR podcast for beginners and insiders about the people, terms and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. We’re beholden to the humanities media project at the university of Texas for support for this re-recording that sounds so good. And This is a re-recording, so recognize that it might not fit into a normal timeline. This was supposed to come after the Encomium ofHelen written by Gorgias. It’s a come back written by my favorite sophist--Isocrates.


Isocrates had a complaint that Gorgias has not written a true encomium, but an apologia--a defense. He only defended her actions as not her fault instead of saying what she was actually excellent at. Isocrates complains that the encomium of helen is flaky, like the encomiums of bees or salt that other sophist have written. And, like so many of us, he uses this technicality to fuel his own attempt. It kind of reminds me of the Phaedrus, where Socrates wants to correct the speech he has just heard from another sophist. Something about seeing something done wrong makes you want to do it right.


And Isocrates is certain that is has been done wrong. First lines of his encomium demonstrate that: “There are some who think it a great thing if they put forward an odd, paradoxical theme and can discuss it without giving offense” Complaints against the sophist especially gorgias--Isocrates was one of those people who thought Gorgias was disreputable, moving around all the time, proving impossibles all the time, and, damningly, a political.  “The most ridiculous thing of all is that they seek to persuade us through their speeches that they have knowledge of politics” (9).  Writing about trivial things means that people will listen, admire--but not debate. By taking novel topics instead of political, they are easily the best--like being the best player of Calvinball. Instead, Isocrates praises in a political vein, using Helen as a figure for a contemporary controversy. But he does so in a roundabout way.


So to praise Helen, starts by praising her absconder. He mentions himself that “it would not yet be clear whether my speech is in praise of Helen or a prosecution of theseus” (21) But he argues by association: those who are “loved and admired her were themselves more admirable than the rest” (22). So, that argument goes, those who wanted Helen were the best sort, so she was, by assoication, pretty great. There’s a lot of praise of Theseus here for a supposed praise of Helen, but the Theseus Isocrates paints is a hero, not just of himself, like Hercules was, but for the Greek people in general he “freed the inhabitants of the city from great fear and distress” (25) and “thought it was better to die than to live and rule a site that was compelled to pay such a sorrowful tribute to its enemies” (27). Theseus was a selfless, poltical heo who has “cirtue and soundness of mind … especially in his managment of the city. He saw that those who seek to rule the citizens by force became slaves to others and those who put others’ lives in danger live in fear themselves” (32-33).


Indeed, there’s so much civic love for Theseus here that you set the idea that Isocrates here isn’t just talking about fiction, or myth, or history , but politics. This is not just a fun triffle , a parodoxologia like where Gorgias made Helen a hero instead of a villian. this is not paignion, a fun peice of exhition. George Kenedy argues that Isocrates goes on at such great length about theseus because “theseus is worthy of Helen” and similarly “Athens is worth of the hegemony which it should take from Sparta” (81). In other words, The Helen is “in fact a clear statement of Isorates’ program of Panhellenism” (80)--a united federation of greek city states helmed by Athens.


The praise of Helen herself backs up this idea: “It is due to Helen that we are not the slaves of the barbarian” paraphrases Kennedy (82). Isocrates talks about Helen the way that 19th century americans talked about manifest destiny: “A longing for beautiful things,... is innate in us, and it has a strength greater than our other wishes” and “we enslave ourselves to such people with more pleasure than we rule others” (55-57). Helen wasn’t just beautiful--she was devine. She “acheive more than other mortals just as she excelled over them in appearances. Not only did she win immortality, but she also gained power equal to the gods’” (61). While Theseus was honored by association to be chosen to judge the gods, Helen was defied, and --and this is important for the political analogy--she was able to assist in the apotheiosis of Menelaisis and others.


In the end, Isocrates’ Helen is several things at once: it is a criticism of the Gorgias and the other traveling sophists, who made their living by proving the impossible in demonstration speeches that delighted and caused, to paraphrase Gorgias’ own words, amusement for the authors. He’s presenting a political tract, similar to the one in the PanAthenaicus, where he argues for a more involved Athenian hegemony in panhellenic unity. He’s also presenting a pedagogical advertisment: study with me, he says, and you’ll create real political speeches, not fluffy bits of taffy. At the end of the speech, ever the teacher, Isocrates says “If, then, some people wish to elaborate this material and expand on it, they will not lack material to stimulate their praise of Helen beyond what I have said, but they will find many original arguments to make about her”--yes, he’s setting up his potential students to use his encomium--a real encomium--as a model for their own, future, semi-scaffolded work.


If you have your own example of using your own writing to help your students learn about differnt genres, I’d love to hear about it. Send me an email at or get in contact how ever you’d like. I recently heard from Rik in Holland (which, incidentally is awesome) that he listens to the podcast on his commute to Groningen University and when he walks the dog, as well as using the podcast in his own classes. Rik! I love to listen to podcasts walking a dog, or commuting, so good on you! Rik also made a suggestion for a podcast on framing, and, by gum, that sounds great, so look forward to hearing about framing in the future, Rik and all the dog walkers and everyone no matter where they are or what they do while listening to Mere Rhetoric.



Direct download: Mere_Rhetoric_-_Isocrates.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm CST



Welcome to MR the podcast about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. Today we’re going to be talking about what are perhaps some old ideas, but from a fresh angle. What if the way we thought about traditional rhetoric in a more modern context? But first, let me give a shout out to the Humanities Media Project, whose support lets us record these podcasts in such sound-proof-room splendor, and Jacob in the booth, who not only lets me know when I’ve muttered my lines, but edits it up so that it doesn’t sound like I did. Okay, back to the show.

Rhetoric is a field bound by tradition. And no tradition is more traditional than Aristotle’s original three appeals: ethos logos pathos. Often times I think that if my first year composition students learn one thing this semester, it is ethos logos pathos and if they remember one thing five years after this semester, it will be ethos, logos and pathos. But one of the problems with the appeals is that they are ethos, logos and pathos--weird Greek words that don’t exactly map onto English easily. I’m forever explaining that a pathetic appeal isn’t a terrible one, or a tragic one, or that logos doesn’t just mean computer-program logic. M. Jimmie Killingsworth set out to reform and modernise the appeals in his 2005 text  titles, appropriately enough, “Appeals in Modern Rhetoric:an Ordinary-Language approach.”


Killingsworth breaks down the appeals in this way: Appeals to authority and evidence; appeals to time; appeals to place; appeals to the body; appeals to gender; appeals to race; appeals to race; appeals through tropes and the appeal of narrative.


Some of these may see straightforward and ever-lasting: appeals to authority, for instance, seem as old as time and require rhetors to judiciously determine which authorities are authoritative for them as well as for the audience.   But some of the appeals restructure how we think about rhetoric. Appeals to time, for instance, is a general way to describe how Aristotle’s other division, the genres of rhetoric, relate to each other. The genres of rhetoric, you might recall, include forensic (looking at the past), epideictic (looking at the present) and deliberative (looking towards the future). Again, because these genres seem very distant to modern audiences, Killingsworth translates into contemporary business writing:” reports narrate the pass, instructions deal with actions in the present time and proposals mak arguments for future action” (38). But these genres aren’t just neutral--they may an argument to the audience. Arguing that something is modern, or urgent is an appeal in itself, as does harkening back to the halcyon days of yesteryear. Instead of thinking of genres as genres, Killingsworth encourages us to think of them as arguments.


Killingsworth also breaks down the appeal about the author into some of the key identities which modern rhetors might use: appeals to race and to gender. He also pulls a bit an Aristotle himself in classifying these appeals further. TAke, for instance, appeal to race, where he talks about the way that racial stereotypes creates an othering. Fine, we might say, we all know that racial stereotypes create a wedge between groups, and “reduce the complexity of individuals and cultural groups” (99) but how exactly does this happen? In three ways, Killingworth suggests, in true artistotlean fashion. “Diminishment of character involves the denial of key human qualities” such as assuming that a group of people don’t love their children as keenly as another or that a group doesn’t value romantic love (99-100). Dehumanization goes even further and makes the people into animals or objects. The extreme example of this is chattel slavery, which completely dehumanizes slaves. Finally, demonization is where a race is seen as superhumanly wicked. “Western devils” for instance, or Indian witches, or black devils, who only exist to perpetrate crimes against another race. (100).


Killingsworth may be straying back difficult terminology when he talks about appeal through tropes--what the heck is a trope? Well, he’s talking about the four master tropes: metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche and irony, but he’s going to describe what they are and how they work as appeals in this way: you can identify one position with another, like a metaphor; you can associate one position with another, like metonymy; you can represent one position by another and you can close the distance between two positions and increase the distance from a third, like irony (121). Let’s give a few practical examples of how that might work. Metaphor, you might remember, is a little like an SAT verbal question. If I say “Cedar pollen smacked me in the face today,” I’m saying pollen is to immune system as fist is to face. In terms of an argument, you might say, like Martin Luther King Jr, that “Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is cover up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed” and so make the comparison that activists are to injustice as doctors are to illness (125). Metonymy sustitutes the part for the whole, for example, when someone says they question the bible, they don’t question the existence of such a book, but the validity of the events narrated therein.Synecdoche looks at a critical part for the full. There might be a critical story that tells a fuller story.

For example, if I begin a paper about graduate student writers by telling about a student who was frustrated when her literature professors didn’t give her quizzes about the main characters in the books they read, I’m saying that something about this story relates to how all graduate students feel when they transition from undergraduate programs. Burke calls this the representative anecdote--a small story that represents a larger trend. Irony is, as Killingsworth says, “the most complex and diffitult of the four master tropes” (131). Irony is a beast, and we’ll talk more in-depth about irony this semester when we talk about Booth’s Rhetoric of Irony. Killingsworth here, though, points out that the “crucial elements of iron’ are “Tone and insider knowledge” (132). We come to identify with the rhetor when we hear irony because we’re both in the know.


So once I was describe satire and I described Swift’s a Modest Proposal as a magnificent work of ironic satire and one of my students sat bolt upright in his seat. “That was ironic?!” he said. “I just assumed Swift was some kind of sicko.” Really, Swift says we should eat babies, so how does anyone think he isn’t some kind of sicko? Well, partially because before I read a Modest Proposal, I knew Swift was a clergyman who worked with poor people in Ireland for most of his career, and I also knew that Swift loved satire--he wrote Gulliver’s Travels, after all. Because of my inside knowledge, I was able to interpret Swift’s exaggerations as irony. And then Swift and I get to stand together, winking at each other against the supporters of the Corn Tax. Irony unites the speaker and audience as we poke fun at the subjects of our irony (132-3).


So Killingsworth provides a review of many of the principles of rhetoric we’ve discussed in the podcast and well as a preview of things to come. Rhetoric, he proposes, is not just about stuffy terms and dead Greeks, but something that continues with us in all situations, even in the modern world.

Direct download: Mere_Rhetoric_-_Killingsworth.mp3
Category:Education -- posted at: 12:00pm CST